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How to Cook with No Recipe?
Old 04-27-2019, 09:09 AM   #1
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How to Cook with No Recipe?

Iíve seen a couple videos with people advocating grocery shopping without a shopping list, just buy what looks good and/or is on special - evidently itís more common in Europe. That certainly sounds good to me, better than my current approach. Of course I realize Iíll have to have some sense of proportion, e.g. canít buy just vegetables, just proteins, just starches - there will have to some variety.

Like most Americans (Iím told), my grocery shopping is recipe based - I sit down with selected recipes and make a shopping list of all the specific ingredients I donít already have on hand plus restocking the pantry basics. Sometimes I canít find certain ingredients, the quantities are too large, or other items look MUCH better/cheaper.

So Iíd like to get away from recipe based shopping, but I donít know how to cook without a recipe. Iíve been searching online but I havenít found any guidance, or the right search terms maybe. I checked out the eBook Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat and it looks interesting but maybe not enough to get me away from recipe based shopping.

Any ideas from home chefs here?

Hereís another description of what Iím seeking?
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Old 04-27-2019, 09:18 AM   #2
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Midpack View Post
I checked out the eBook Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat and it looks interesting but maybe not enough to get me away from recipe based shopping.

Any ideas from home chefs here?
That is an excellent book.

A few others in the same vein that could help you a lot:
Ruhlman's 20
Ratio
(both of those by Michael Ruhlman)
The Food Lab
(by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt)

If you read and understand those books you can cook just about anything without a recipe. After all, that's what professional chefs do (the good ones, anyway).
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Old 04-27-2019, 09:43 AM   #3
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I grocery shop without a list, other than listing if we need milk/eggs type of thing, so I don't forget to pick them up.

The vast majority of what I buy is simply based on what looks like a good deal, or interesting. I've always thought this saves money because I end up getting whatever meat is on sale.

So I end up with all sorts of stuff, then each day or even sometimes at suppertime, I look and say "what will we have for supper tonight?". And make something.

On rare occasion I use the internet search for: meatX, vegetable1, vegetable2, etc and get the inspiration from that.

I do always seem to have available rice, potatoes, onions, butter, spices, - basically all the basics.

One issue to be aware of is sometimes the cheap seasonality of something means you eat it a lot for a few weeks as it's such a good deal.
Currently asparagus is cheap, so I have 2lbs in the fridge and we ate 2 lbs last week.
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Old 04-27-2019, 09:50 AM   #4
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After cooking for so many years, I have several basic recipes fairly memorized. I simply substitute what I have on hand and make up new ones. Lots of taste testing as I go along. Luckily, I've never bombed out and made anything inedible. The problem with not following a recipe is when I make a really great meal and everyone asks what the recipe is! I don't know, I just made it up
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Old 04-27-2019, 10:03 AM   #5
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How to Cook without a Book is a great reference for that kind of cooking. Yes, there are recipes, but they are variations on a theme for particular cooking techniques. With an adequately stocked pantry and basics in the fridge, you can then wing it with different main ingredients - whatever looks particularly good at the store.

If you have a copy on your iPhone, you can even do a quick lookup in store.

By a well known editor of Cooks Illustrated. The cooking techniques and recipes are straightforward and versatile. Good results too! https://www.amazon.com/Cook-Without-...13MC6CR30V1967
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Old 04-27-2019, 10:05 AM   #6
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We eat so simply that a recipe would be superfluous.

A typical dinner will consist of steamed mixed vegetables topped with grated cheese, a drizzle of olive oil and good quality soy sauce, some legume or other, (DW rarely eats meat) e.g. - lentils, black beans or prepared tofu ---> saute onions, garlic, and mushrooms. Add the cubed firm style tofu, season with soy sauce and ground black pepper. Eat with whole grain, e.g. - quinoa, black, short grain brown and wild rice. Or occasionally baked potato.
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Old 04-27-2019, 10:20 AM   #7
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I tend to cook without recipes. Baking is the exception. The way I would describe my cooking style is that it is technique based. I have learned basic techniques that can be applied to any meat; searing, stewing, roasting and sauteing. I have also learned basic sauce making techniques and vegetable preparations. Once you learn the techniques, they can be applied to a wide variety of food.

While it contains recipes, Julia Child's classic Mastering the Art of French Cooking is full of technique and basic recipes that many cooks commit to memory. I enjoy the cooking shows on TV and over the years have learned a lot of techniques from watching.
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Old 04-27-2019, 10:23 AM   #8
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I think a way to go about it, is to learn a few basic recipes and figure out how to adapt. For instance, I have a pizza dough recipe that I use for breadsticks. Also, my pizza sauce was based on a recipe that is no longer made the same way twice (they’re close). We went to a build your own pizza place and they did a garlic spread for the sauce, which my wife loved. So now, I make one as an alternative. Next time we make pizzas, I think I’ll try roasted garlic as the base.

Likewise, we have several memorized family recipes that are never made the same way twice. We’ll throw in something extra or substitute ingredients based on what we have on hand. We watch some of the chef competition shows and for example, I’ve learned the importance of an acid, that can change/improve the flavor profile of a dish. There are a lot of little things you can pickup from those shows. Experimentation is key and realizing not every dish will be a winner.
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Old 04-27-2019, 10:25 AM   #9
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Seldom use recipes for cooking. Baking requires recipes.
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Old 04-27-2019, 10:36 AM   #10
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My favorite book for this is called How to cook without a book

it is simple and straightforward. It teaches you how to make different sauces and apply them to different combinations.

Example:
Easy sauce for meat
1 part of each+ some fat-butter or oil

balsamic
soy sauce
maple syrup

And you can just adjust from there for your taste
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Old 04-27-2019, 10:39 AM   #11
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I only use recipes for new stuff. I know how to make the old (tried and true for decades) stuff.

Never use a list, shop from memory and buy what looks good. What I had planned to do frequently changes due to what looks best at the store.
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Old 04-27-2019, 10:42 AM   #12
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Agree: baking requires measurement, cooking generally does not.

Master half a dozen "mother" recipes you can vamp on. Then buy what looks good and use your go-to structure to make it work.

(Side benefit of learning how to cook without recipes: the other day I found I had a smallish amount of leftover brisket and brisket jus, random veggies. The resulting soup was better than many I've made over the years using a recipe!)
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Old 04-27-2019, 10:48 AM   #13
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I never use recipes, except a few of my own that I saved on the PC. I shop for whatever meat and produce looks good, and I might stock up if it's on sale. This became easier several years ago when DW and I went low-carb. We have nothing on-hand except meat in the freezer and fresh vegetables in the fridge.

A typical evening meal consists of meat and two vegetables and/or salad. No fancy dishes with rich sauces, no cheese, no dessert, no fruit, no pasta/potatoes/rice/bread. Yet we both feel like we eat better than ever before in our lives; and our weight is back down where it belongs.

Most meat goes in the sous vide around 3pm. We typically buy meat in bulk packages, then season them, and vacuum seal in meal-size portions before freezing. By 6pm, I prep some veggies for roasting or steaming, prep a salad, sear the meat for a minute or two, and dinner is served. Last night we had boneless/skinless chicken thighs, roasted cauliflower with truffle oil, a salad (mostly from our garden), and we split a small avocado.
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Old 04-27-2019, 10:49 AM   #14
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I shop by what looks good and what is in season or on sale. Usually have all the spices I need but will buy as needed for the main dish. eg. If a Chuck roast looks like a good deal but I'm out of Bay Leaf, I also buy the Bay Leaf.
I eat the in season veggies and fruits so much that I'm tired of them by the time they're not in season.
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Old 04-27-2019, 10:51 AM   #15
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DW and I always shop grocery store and just pick what we find on sale or we decide on the spot to get. We do make a list to ensure certain items are not forgotten. But in general, we do not have specific meals planned out. Many evenings, we look at what;s in the frig and then figure out how to cook it. We grill a lot on the BBQ, so the meat is easy. We marinade a lot ahead of time, so it's ready for the grill. Baking does require a recipe though.


I find by being open at the grocery store, we try new things. I am probably more on the spot buy than DW.
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Old 04-27-2019, 10:53 AM   #16
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Lots of wonderful suggestions already, thanks everyone. I’ve been reading one book all morning!
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Old 04-27-2019, 11:54 AM   #17
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DN and DH have these "garbage" throw it all in type dishes that always taste better than any restaurant dish. DN does a salad with beans, nuts, green leafy, carrots, beets I can't even tell you all the stuff in that salad. It's a complete meal and all the flavors just work.


DH does this garbage type 4 qt goulash/bean/vegetable/pepper/mushroom/onion - I can get one Tbls and look carefully at it and try to identify everything in there, it's not easy. We freeze it and it's the best go to meal.
Same with dessert: good essentials are always cream cheese, whipped cream then throw anything in there...chocolate/fruit/nuts/berries. Pie crusts are tricky so I use Angel Food Cake, a little glaze.

https://www.allrecipes.com/ gives you videos on how to make everything, thousands of dishes. I always change it to fit what I have in the cupboard or run out and get an item or two.
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Old 04-27-2019, 12:06 PM   #18
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Do you watch any of the cooking competition shows? No recipes and ingredients are wide ranging. The chefs have to be creative. Mostly it's based on experience, so I'd say start there; watch and see how they incorporate certain ingredients; acids, starches, sugars in fruits, etc.

I enjoy cooking without recipes myself; DW will come home with fish for example and I'll come up with what ever is in the pantry. Maybe a marinade and kabob sticks on the BBQ, a quick sugar cure and into the smoker or cast iron fry with coconut oil and some seasoning for fish tacos. The kabobs may be accompanied with steamed rice, veggies on more kabob sticks, a cole slaw salad, etc.

Left overs are also a good way to experiment. I can take some left over pork and use a stroganoff seasoning package over wide noodles or better, rice. I can add the saved drippings from the smoker to add a little outdoorsy flavor, or anything from a fish sauce, steak sauce, etc for something unique.

Anyways, the cooking comp shows really get your creative juices flowing when staring into a pantry or fridge and wonder what to make out of what you got or what's on sale.
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Old 04-27-2019, 12:53 PM   #19
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I hate it when I go to the kitchen for food and all I find are ingredients.
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Old 04-27-2019, 01:05 PM   #20
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My husband might say - this is pretty good which, from him, is high praise for a dish. More often than not my response is - enjoy it while you can because I made it up as I went along and am not likely to remember it or, if I do, what I put in it.


I have 3 types of dishes. 1) Standard stuff that I have been making since I was 10 years old and could make in my sleep. 2) Stuff I used a recipe off the Internet to make 3) Most of what I fix - I just start off with an ingredient and look around for things to add.


I rarely, almost never, plan meals so I never shop for specific dishes.
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